Fearful Pakistani Christians make home in forest
A medical review is being conducted to determine the girl’s mental state, said Sajid Ishaq, chairman of the Pakistan Interfaith League, a group that works to improve relations between various religious and sectarian groups.
He said about 600 families have fled the neighborhood where the Christian girl lived and have been staying with family and friends.
“They are actually fearful. And we are trying our best to send them home safely. And also we are demanding to the government that they should give them compensation for their loss. And protection as well,” he said.
Mr. Ishaq took part in a press conference Monday with the All Pakistan Ulema Council, a group of Muslim clerics and scholars from across the country, to discuss the blasphemy case.
The groups called for an investigation into whether the girl was wrongly accused and what role religious extremism played in igniting the case. They demanded that all Christians be allowed to return to their neighborhood.
The degree of international attention on this case has not gone unnoticed in Pakistan, where many already feel their country is unfairly portrayed as being a haven for terrorists and religious extremism.
The chairman of the All Pakistan Ulema Council, Maulana Tahir-ul-Ashrafi, urged the world community to avoid any interference in the case and promised that Pakistan would provide justice for the girl and the Christian community.
A few Christians have moved back to the neighborhood. Nooran Bashir said she left her house in panic, hours after the Christian girl’s arrest.
“I don’t know whether she burned pages of some holy book or not, but we all had to abruptly leave our homes to save our lives,” she said.
On Sunday, she decided to return to their house and spent the night there, along with one of her sons. But her other children were too scared to return with her, so she sent them to stay with relatives.
She said local Muslims asked them not to worship at their church, and if they do, they were told not to sing songs during the service.
Others are not ready to return. A group of about 200 Christians protested in front of the city administration offices, demanding that they be allowed to stay in the clearing they had created and where they hope to build their church. There was word on whether their wish would be granted.
“We don’t have a big list of demands,” said one Christian resident, Salim Masih. “We have cleared this place with our hands, and we have laid the first foundation of a small church here. Although this is a mere skeleton made of tree branches, this is the holy home of God. This should be respected.”